My dream in a shoebox

Michael Alan Hamlin

Posted on December 10, 2010

“Giving back” by the business community doesn’t just happen in December. All year long companies of all sizes direct resources to the communities where they are located and to markets they serve and profit from. Examples are everywhere.

The League of Corporate Foundations (LCF) is a rich example. An association of corporate foundations and companies that incorporate corporate social responsibility (CSR) into their core values, LCF members are strategically involved in educational, environmental, health, arts and cultural, and enterprise development initiatives. Many of its 71 operating and grant-making corporate foundations are also involved in ad-hoc programs, especially disaster-relief efforts.

IT-BPO companies have tightly integrated CSR programs into their employee enrichment agendas. Like those of LCF members, these activities are both strategic and tactical in nature. Among the strategic initiatives I have first-hand knowledge of are adopt-a-school programs in local communities and internal tertiary educational opportunities that benefit employees. Both initiatives provide a means for Filipinos to enhance their income generating capabilities.

The reasons companies engage in these programs vary. While CSR has been shown to contribute to building goodwill for brands in annual surveys of strong corporate brands, there are also tangible benefits, as I wrote in July just prior to this year’s LCF annual conference. I cited the example of an IT-BPO firm that saw evidence of the impact of its CSR initiatives on recruitment.

Many IT-BPO firms have tremendous appeal for potential employees. Working conditions are excellent, with most of these firms’ operations located in modern, almost-new and world-class buildings. Benefits and amenities are myriad, generally including subsidized meals, rest and recreational facilities, and special employee trips and events. So many firms offer these things that they have become standard requisites for a potential employer to be considered by applicants. They no longer provide competitive advantage.

Among the innovative initiatives that do is CSR. Many companies have great cultures and camaraderie in the workplace environment. But when employees are given the opportunity to help young students attain an education, CSR becomes personal. It’s not just the company that’s giving back, it’s the individual. The employer is empowering the employee to do good. Many companies find that this creates a special bond between the firm and its employees.

While “giving back” never stops, the visibility of these efforts is more apparent during the end-of-the-year holiday season. The season of giving is the icing on the strategic CSR cake, making it a little more special. For many firms in the IT-BPO industry the icing will be delivered through a program called, “My Dream in a Shoebox.” For the second year, the Business Processing Association of the Philippines (BPAP) and TeamAsia are working with BPAP-member companies to collect school supplies for the Dynamic Teen Company (DTC). (Disclosure: BPAP is a client and partner of TeamAsia, where I am managing director.)

You may not recall DTC offhand, but you probably remember its most visible proponent, CNN’s 2009 Hero of the Year, Efren Peñaflorida. Mr. Peñaflorida’s first encounter with the initiative that would become DTC was as a young student. Bullied at school and severely disadvantaged financially, a young engineer named Hardin Manalaysay took the youth under his wing, mentoring him and building his confidence.

Mr. Peñaflorida almost surely would have been just another lost youth in a tough neighborhood if not for Mr. Manalaysay’s efforts. Transformed, Mr. Peñaflorida followed in his mentor’s footsteps, becoming a student leader himself, graduating from college, and earning a living as a school teacher. Both men and others like them continue their work with troubled youth, educating them on Cavite’s frequently mean streets and barrios.

“My Dream in a Shoebox” is meant to help sustain visibility for their efforts, and to make an annual contribution to the work of DTC. Last year BPAP, TeamAsia, and participating associations and companies provided 200 shoeboxes filled with educational materials to young children supported by DTC. This year’s goal is to provide 1,000 shoeboxes, and to make a substantial contribution to the construction of a new DTC facility, the Kalingain Batang Mahirap Learning Center.

To view a list of the associations and firms supporting this year’s My Dream in a Shoebox, visit My Dream in a Shoebox, which provides details of the initiative and its beneficiaries, as well as alternatives for participating. While you likely have your own CSR initiatives underway, consider donating a few shoeboxes with school supplies, or contributing to the learning center construction fund.

We’ll all be better off for it.

(Michael Alan Hamlin is the managing director of TeamAsia and a Manila-based author. His latest book is High Visibility: Transforming Your Personal and Professional Brand . Write him at and follow him on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.). Copyright © 2010 Michael Alan Hamlin. All Rights Reserved.)

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